Tim Winker’s Report On The Trans-America Rally’s Visit To Duluth, MN

Tim Winker is a self-described motorsports junkie who has competed in endurance rally events in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.  Tim lives in the Duluth, Minnesota area so when the Trans-America rally was in the Duluth area Tim went to take a look at the rally.  Tim saw my post about me meeting up with the rally in Old Forge, New York and he offered to send me a report on his visit with the rally in Duluth.  The following report and photos are Tim’s report.

They snuck into Duluth with little fanfare, but hardly unnoticed. How could you not help but notice an older Jaguar sedan with numbers on the side? Or a 1963 Ford Falcon with the distinct rumble of a V8? Or a parade of 1960s era Mercedes Benz roadsters? Or Bentleys and Rolls Royces covered with dirt from a hard day’s drive?

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These vintage cars were all a part of the 2015 Trans-America Challenge, a rally tour across Canada and the United States organized by the Endurance Rally Association of Great Britain. This is the same organization that put together the Around The World In 80 Days event that visited Duluth in 2000. Upcoming ERA events include the Alpine Trial in Europe, and the Sahara Challenge in Africa. The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge is on the calendar for 2016, as is the Rally of the Incas in South America.

The Trans-America tour left Halifax, Nova Scotia on June 7th, and will arrive in San Francisco, California, on June 28th. The short route between those two points is nearly 4000 miles, but the Trans-America crews are not taking the short route. Instead of driving on freeways or major 2-lane roads, much of the rally course uses lesser traveled byways, including timed Regularity sections on twisting gravel roads. There are four “Rest Days” built into the schedule, but few teams get any rest. Instead they work on repairing their cars and doing laundry.

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The rally arrived in Duluth after their longest driving day, 711 km (440 mi) from St. Ignace, Michigan. Several cars needed repairs, some just needed a good once over. A team from Malaysia driving a 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II talked the guys at London Road Car Wash into staying late to give their thoroughbred a bath.

The oldest car in the event is a 1927 Bentley 4 ½ LeMans with a 4.4 liter engine. The newest, a 1977 Triumph Stag with a 3.0 liter V8 engine. All manner of predominantly British and German cars pepper the field, with a handful of American muscle cars tossed in for fun. A trio of Volvos and an Australian Holden rounded out the entry list.

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A squadron of workers runs with the rally, one team running a day early to make sure the chosen route is still viable, several manning checkpoints along the way to keep rally crews on time, and a detachment of mechanics to deal with on course repairs and arrange for towing if necessary. The mechanics’ right-hand drive Toyota Hilux pickups are well equipped for minor emergencies such as broken fan belt, blown hose, or other repairs that can be handled on the side of the road. In the evenings they help teams with more serious repairs such as rebuilding carburetors, replacing shock absorbers or welding broken suspensions.

One car arrived at the Inn on Lake Superior on a rollback; a Ford Mustang Boss 302 . The engine had lost power and they decided it would be better to keep from blowing it up. It was suggested to take the car to Archer Racing near the Duluth airport, where the diagnosis was not good: worn out rocker arms and bad rod bearings for a start. That meant an engine rebuild and the Mustang was out, at least until repairs can be made.

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The team of Richard Martin and Travis Cole left Halifax aboard a 1936 Alvis Speed 5. It suffered a blown head gasket on the first day, so the team arranged to ship the Alvis back to England and rented a car to stay with the rally. They checked the ads at every stop in hopes of finding a suitable classic car to complete the trip. They purchased a 1972 Datsun 240Z in Buffalo, New York, and set about to turn it into a rally car. Thought the body and drivetrain seemed to be in good shape, the Z having spent most of its life in California, it wasn’t exactly up to the rigors of a cross-country trip. They had ordered shock absorbers and other parts to be shipped to the hotel in Duluth and set about replacing the shock absorbers. They were able to install the front struts in the parking lot while a light rain fell. By the time they reached South Dakota the rear struts, driveshaft and halfshaft u-joints, and fuel pump had been replaced. The bearings in the differential were singing as they made their way toward Rapid City and a rest day, but they decided to rely on a flatbed tow truck to carry them the final few miles from Sturgis. A local salvage yard said they had the proper differential for the Z, but it turned out to be from a 260Z, not a 240Z, so it was necessary to replace all of the subframe as well.

The T-A Challenge headed to Grand Forks on departing Duluth, with several timed Regularity sections on back roads along the way. A couple of those sections utilized forest roads near Lake Itasca that have been used for the Ojibwe Forests and Headwaters stage rallies. The Headwaters Rally had used some of the same route the previous weekend.

Official reports, photos, and links to competitors’ updates can be found at www.endurorally.com.


 

 

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